Why Relationships Reach A Breaking Point


The top reason why relationships end and what you can do about it.

This guest article from PsychCentral was written by Nathan Feiles, LCSW.

There are many perspectives on why relationships don't always last, and more than one theory has validity to it. I'm going to present a theory I call the "broken mirror" theory.

Attraction has many levels to it, as well as a deep psychology underlying what draws us to certain people. But one general concept seems to have more influence in attraction than others: the people we are attracted to are mirrors of ourselves and our histories.

However, it's not quite so simple. The mirror doesn't just reflect ourselves as we consciously know ourselves, but reflects more brightly the unconscious parts of ourselves that we've disowned over the course of our lives. Disowned parts tend to be emotional and self states that we've learned over time aren't healthy for us, for one reason or another. For example, if we were raised not to cry or be emotional, it's possible that we disowned this part of ourselves and became more emotionally moderated. Therefore, we may be attracted to someone who is more emotionally open.

Another example of this could be someone who's been raised to constantly show happiness and cut off negative emotions could be attracted to people who are more direct and possibly mean to others at times.

Both of these examples show how the mirror reflects an unconscious part of ourselves. We're attracted to something that's buried within us, but we access that through someone else.

Complicating this picture is the influence of our caretakers and their role in our emotional development. If we were raised by parents who habitually yelled and demeaned us, this becomes a subconscious part of what we seek in a partner. Being raised this way has given individuals a sense of "comfort" in being yelled at and demeaned in a love relationship. We find comfort in playing a similar role in our current relationships as we played in our families when growing up.

Basically, the people we are attracted to mirror our subconscious selves and our lives. We are drawn to people who show up on our subconscious radar as having the potential to bring us "home." Home is where the comfort zones are, as well as the disowned parts of ourselves that we want to reclaim, as well as having positive traits that we seek out actively.

The problems enter the picture with the combination of projections and repair fantasies. When we are attracted to someone, we would like to believe that the positives play the biggest role in our attraction—and this may be the case, consciously. However, subconsciously, attraction is a longing for repair in areas that we've not been able to repair with our caretakers.

For example, a woman who was ignored by her father during her childhood finds a man that at first showers her with attention, then he begins to cut off from her and she again starts feeling neglected and ignored.

Flipping this example, a man who grew up trying to avoid an emotionally overbearing mother may at first give love and attention in a relationship, but retreat and become neglectful as more attention is sought from him.

Basically, we subconsciously hope to repair these problem areas of our childhood through current relationships.

What Causes Breakups?

First, it's important to highlight that frustrations alone don't "break the mirro," nor do frustrations directly break up relationships. People often break up and get back together several times before ultimately parting ways. What we're looking at here is what causes people to ultimately break up, rather than temporary breakups.

Projections play a big role in "breaking the mirror," which leads to the ultimate breakup. The real trouble comes when we see qualities in our partners that we don't like—the parts that really annoy us and trigger us emotionally. You probably are aware of these parts of your partner.

The more we are triggered by something, the more likely it is that these are also a latent part of ourselves being stirred up. Someone who tries to be nice all the time may be attracted to someone with a temper. More than likely, the person who tries to be nice all the time has a passive-aggressive side and a latent aggressive side. Being directly angry is probably threatening (otherwise there wouldn't be a need to be nice all the time). Underlying the passive-aggression is a history of unresolved anger. But, it becomes easier to recognize the partner's temper and blame the partner for the anger in the relationship. What's not being owned here is the nice partner's own anger.

This example illustrates how we have blind spots to ourselves. These blind spots are often recognizable in the people we choose to be with, but we do our best to remain in denial that the qualities we dislike the most in our partners are most likely a latently loaded part of ourselves as well.

So, as we see, the mirror is a complicated mirror. The people we are attracted to come with our life's history, latent and disowned parts of ourselves and surface desires, which are all reflected back at us. Keep reading...

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This article was originally published at PsychCentral. Reprinted with permission from the author.